Semi-Pro

If you liked “Talladega Nights” and “Blades of Glory” you will like Will Ferrell's new vehicle, “Semi-Pro,” an intermittently raucous comedy that repeats (recycles) basic elements of the funny man's former films, though to a much lesser effect.

Directed by Kent Alterman, and written by Scot Armstrong (who had recently penned the hit remake “Starsky and Hutch”), “Semi-Pro” concerns a down-and-out basketball team that give the National Basketball Association a run for its money. Like Ferrell's other flicks, it's about dreaming big and playing low, except it's set in the swingin and stylin 1970s, when the hairdos were huge.

Occasionally rowdy, but mostly dominated with good-natured laughs and butt-slapping camaraderie, based on the on-screen chemistry between Will Ferrell and Woody Harrelson, “Semi-Pro” is a movie fantasy that should please naive viewers who have ever had a big dream–and really bad hair.

Will Ferrell (call me Wilf) plays Jackie Moon, a man who made a fortune when Baby Who Wants To Love Me Sexy, a one-hit-wonder he wrote topped the charts. Knowing his talents werent in songwriting (he actually stole the song from his mother), Jackie invested his not-so-hard earned cash in his real love–basketball.

Jackie is now the owner, coach and star player of The Tropics, a semi-professional basketball team in Flynt, Michigan, which is the same town where Michael Moore based his seminal docu, “Roger and Me”. The Tropics are a rag-tag bunch of crazies, like Clarence, who knows more about smoking pot than dribbling, and Bee Bee, whos better at turning cartwheels than making baskets.

This team represents raw talent, to say the least. In fact, they rarely win a game. Fans show up to watch the sexy cheerleaders bounce around in shiny hot pants, but thats not even enough to keep the scoreboard out of the pawnshop.

To improve matters, Jackie decides to hire a real basketball player, Monix (Woody Harrelson), a big guy with a big attitude, who was once a star in the NBA, but now suffers from a bum knee, a quick temper, and a weakness for booze. Even so, Monix has real basketball smarts; he knows everything there is to know about the game. Timing is crucial: Monix joins the Tropics just when they need him the most.

The league is about to merge with the NBA, and only the top four teams will qualify. Whats more, to make the grade, qualifying teams must have paying fans Will this crazy mix of passionate losers help them fulfill their dream to and play with the pros

Jackie and his teammates play hard, but they continue to stink. As a result, they do what desperate people do: When the going gets tough, they simply break the rules. They seat all their fans on one side of the stadium so that on TV it would look like the place is sold out, they yell at the referees, they only fight with the other team during TV commercials and they invest their time practicing their pre-game disco dance (Jackie wants bigger hair and shorter shorts!) But nothing seems to help. Eventually, Monix agrees to coach the team, but can he turn this motley crew of uncoordinated wannabes into winners in time

This is Kent Alterman's feature directorial debut, which may explain the less than assured touch in helming the comedy sequences and integrating them with the sports elements.

Screenwriter Scot Armstrong is more experienced, having co-penned “Road Trip,” “Starsky & Hutch,” “School for Scoundrels,” “Heartbreak Kid” and “Old School,” and uncredited work on “Elf” and “Bad Santa.”

As noted, the narrative bears resemblance to Will Ferrell's previous comedies, but it's not that original in story and satirical approach. In 1977, George Roy Hill directed the raucously funny and profane comedy “Slap Shot,” based on Nancy Dowd's script, in which Paul Newman is the star of a bush-league hockey team that's going nowhere–until they decide to play dirty.

Since context is important, older viewers, who remember the 1970s more vividly should enjoy the comedy better. In the early 1970s, there were two basketball leagues in the U.S. While the NBA ruled the sport, the ABA was defined by its outlaw flair and sensational showmanship.

From 1967 to 1976, the American Basketball Association was a renegade basketball league that nipped at the heels of the NBA. Despite contributing some impressive innovations to the game and a style of play that emphasized flair and showmanship, the ABA was ultimately absorbed by its well-established competitor. Four of the ABA's most successful teams remained intact after the merger: the San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets, New York Nets and Indiana Pacers.

“Semi-Pro” is the story of the Flint Tropics, a fictitious ABA team that didn't quite make it. The Tropics bear similarity to some of ABA's defunct teams–the Kentucky Colonels, the Anaheim Amigos and the Spirits of St. Louis. The logos and uniforms of these companies were painstakingly reproduced for the movie's game sequences.

Cast

Jackie Moon – Will Ferrell
Ed Monix – Woody Harrelson
Clarence “Downtown” Withers – Andre Benjamin
Lynn – Maura Tierney
Dick Pepperfield – Andrew Daly
Lou Redwood – Will Arnett
Bobby Dee – Andy Richter
Commissioner – David Koechner
Kyle – Rob Corddry
Father Pat the Ref – Matt Walsh
Dukes – Jackie Earle Haley

Credits

A New Line Cinema release and presentation of a Mosaic Media Group production.
Produced by Jimmy Miller. Executive producers, Lauren Shuler Donner, Michael Aguilar, Toby Emmerich, Cale Boyter, Kent Alterman, David Householter.
Co-producer, Josh Church.
Directed by Kent Alterman.
Screenplay, Scot Armstrong.
Camera: Shane Hurlbut.
Editors: Debra Neil-Fisher, Peter Teschner.
Music: Theodore Shapiro.
Production designer: Clayton Hartley.
Art directors: Virginia Randolph-Weaver, Jim Gloster.
Set designer: James E. Tocci.
Set decorator: Casey Hallenbeck.
Costume designer: Susan Matheson.
Sound: Arthur Rochester; sound designers, Alan Rankin, Tim Walston; supervising sound editor, Mark P. Stoeckinger.
Re-recording mixers: Scott Millan, David Parker.
Visual effects supervisor: Dave Johnson.
Visual effects: Pacific Vision Prods.
Stunt coordinator: Brian Machleit

MPAA Rating: R.
Running time: 90 Minutes